Follow me on Youtube, Instagram, and Facebook instead!

Hi all, I am just writing this brief post to inform any followers to this blog to instead follow my Youtube channel, which is also connected to my facebook community page as well as my instagram.

I have not written any blogs here in a long while, reason being because I simply I both do not have the time to write any reviews like the ones posted here, as well as just becoming more disinterested in the time taken to write a good review as opposed to video taping reviews. I simply have more fun doing it that way and it’s more time manageable. So far I’ve got almost 40 videos, all ranging from new and older movie and blu-ray reviews, retrospectives, unboxings, and collection showcases. Stuff that would not be as practical to write as opposed to video taping. So here are the links below:

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So thank you all for following my blog and be sure to friend/follow me! I MAY come back to add more written reviews, but as of now my focus is primarily on video taping stuff as it’s just more enjoyable for me. So follow me there instead and I appreciate your views very much! See you all over there!

Blue Like Jazz (2012) Netflix review

What You May Like:

  • Christian-themes that are based on a more gritty outlook
  • Good looking young and ambitious cast
  • Satisfying conclusion

What You May Not:

  • Script loses too much track of itself for too long
  • Ridiculous and unrealistic exaggerations of modern college life
  • Main character is mostly never actually likable

What You’ll Remember:

  • Don’s final monologue

For quite a while the themes of Christianity in films have been presented with what can best be described as a pampering towards only Christians themselves; Hallmark-style films which do far too little to challenge what can be argued as the most influential and controversial set of religious beliefs known to mankind. The American non-Catholic Christian church beliefs are far too varied in their denominational doctrines to ever be fully and fairly summarized in one full-length film, therefore such ambitious independent directors have been the only ones to take hold of the task in evangelizing the message through film to reach as many of the masses as possible. The main problem has been that in such attempts, the more realistic and gritty acts of humanity have mostly been substituted for G-rated style films that feel a need to tailor to the entire family as to not offend the beliefs of the church itself, doing barely enough to become more accessible to the secular audience, who according to the Christian church, should need it most. Not only that, but considering Christianity is not the most liked faith in modern America, the films have only remained largely independent, and such is the case with Blue Like Jazz, film by director Steve Taylor based on the novel by Donald Miller, which does dare to take steps in challenging the standard, but at the same time has a tendency to lose track of its entire purpose too many times to fully serve both Christians and secular non-believers alike.

Jazz stars Marshell Allman, who plays Don Miller (obviously a nod to the novel author), a 19-year old young Christian man from a conservative Baptist church in Texas, who luckily gets his tuition paid for by his non-Christian father to the most “ungodly” university in America – Reed University, where extreme green party liberalism almost solely (and ridiculously) serves as its prime purpose for existing. Leaving behind his best friend and youth pastor which whom he serves youth ministry with, Miller soon finds himself itching to leave behind his former life due to not only his frustrations with his divorced parents, but also due to the fact that his youth pastor is having an extramarital affair with his own grieving mother. Such underacted hypocrisy by the cheating actors (Jason Marsden and Jenny Littleton) opens Don’s mind to a more progressive way of life. Once at his new university, Don notices like any other college student that being left out and isolated due to his Christian beliefs is set to be expected by a student body who sees his kind as nothing more than oppressive hypocritical bullies. Befriending a few people through attempting several of the school’s completely far-fetched extracurricular programs, Don soon perceives why his previous life was perhaps a gigantic brain-washing lie, and learns the importance of burning books in an attempt to counter the corrupt establishment, co-ed bathrooms, and really, just hanging out without any care for studying and going to class… or at least that’s what the film presents to us. Besides the one love interest Don meets, a young unique girl named Penny (Claire Holt), he is perfectly happy forgetting all his roots and blending into another spoiled and overly privileged college hipster; a keen transition the film begins to display so sloppily that it would seem to any viewer, Christian or not, that its intended purpose isn’t cared for enough to keep stable.

Initially, Jazz carries a quirky indie vibe many viewers of the genre should be well accustomed with – the sarcastically light-hearted tone of the opening church scenes in Texas will entice the audience into wondering what exactly the film is trying to say regarding how Christians act, and whether their somewhat (at least to a secular audience) strange beliefs should be taken as a joke or not. What director Taylor is trying to express in his direction to a more keen eye may be the facade of how our main protagonist Don views the church in his own eyes, to express to us his rationale in leaving. The film unfortunately does not do this cleverly enough, given how the quirky tone shifts immediately once Don gets to Reed. Such an unclear introduction is easily forgivable, yet once the film reaches its crux, that is his initial transition into his new college, the script begins to show us a number of silly to ridiculously exaggerated practices and beliefs within this new liberal environment. Now, while something such as co-ed bathrooms are not entirely unheard of in many American universities, the film feels the need to present its student body as almost a cult, a group where nobody else is anywhere nearly as insecure or unsure as Don, putting on eye roll inducing acts by students as if they’ve been attending the school for a good decade or more, being way too accustomed to their ways of life than is believable; a young female feeling the need and apparently having the ability to urinate in a urinal instead of using a toilet as nonchalantly as washing her hands is only the beginning.

Eventually when Don meets up with a smaller niche group, is where the film’s initial tone does away with itself completely, and losing track of its message as if it never even had one. Beginning with his “pope” friend, that is, a young man who feels the need to mock Christianity by being constantly dressed in a pope’s garment whilst constantly uttering and yelling nonsensical rhetoric, Jazz simply plays out as a reality show of sorts – keeping a camera on Don just taking part in random classes, groups, and activities around campus that do little to nothing to further establish his character, show any growth or disgrowth within his Christian faith, or most importantly get us to sympathize or like him any better. Don now merely exists in a film that may as well be something completely secular, a mundane secular affair that is which will do nothing to speak to, much less involve any viewer regardless of faith. While there is no issue with Taylor’s direction, besides it displaying no form of ambitious creativity besides some out of place transition scenes of Don floating in deep space while reviewing his personal thoughts, we do get tacked on hints of Don’s former Christian loyalty, such as random signs and ads around campus showing the word ‘God’ and such. Too little too late when Taylor is desperately working with a rushed script that seems more focused on taking up running time rather than giving us even any mildly intriguing sub plots.

Eventually, and very  thankfully, due to a somewhat contrived plot twist involving Don’s mother, an entire hour into the film, does the relationship between him and his crush Penny begin to escalate into a tension that should have come perhaps a good half hour earlier. It is during this second half that Don’s personal demons begin to come into full focus, leading him toward a conclusion where the film finally remembers who and what it is and its original purpose. It is at this point that the viewer is really hanging onto any remaining interest by a hair, yet is appreciative Jazz hasn’t gone to absolutely nothing. The performances here are also given their just do, considering the actors at this point have better lines and motivations to work with, we get to see them display characters we do begin to truly like. While Taylor’s original semi-sarcastic tonal structure of the film’s beginning never quite returns, one can only wonder what could have been if such direction were kept consistent. Story-wise, the film does work eventually to speak to the secular audience through Don, in a charming moment of weakness that many of those who have attended such debauchees in college could relate with. Yet to the Christian audience, it may come off as lacking the challenging questions the film initially showed such potential for. Considering again that no film on Christianity could possibly speak to everyone in an average running time, yours grinch truly’s best conclusion is that we just have to take what we can get.

Final Verdict

Jazz, initially a novel, attempts too little to fare as well in its transition to film. And while the original story on paper perhaps displayed a better character growth in Don within his thoughts and intentions, the film utilizes almost none of this, instead making him nothing more than a cardboard cut-out, puppeteered through this university while engaging in random meaningless arguments and situations that do little to nothing to progress the film’s sense of characterization, much less involving the viewer any more than mildly. While the film does pick itself up to almost redeem its flaws later on, it will seem like far too much wasted potential of a film that either just loses track of its purpose, or is confused as to how it should present itself, figuring things out as it goes along and then luckily stumbling into a worthwhile ending that came from author Don Miller’s cleverly written lines anyway, not from any wit or smarts of the screenwriter or director of the film version. In this case, for both secular and Christian audiences, it may be best to stick with those other fluffy pieces of film evangelism, because at least those won’t bore you the way Jazz does; meanwhile the wait still continues for more Christian films that not only have the guts to challenge the status quo, but also do it with way more intelligence. I’d say 1.5 papal garments out of 4.

Oblivion (2013) Blu-ray review

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What You May Like:

  • Marvelous audio/visual presentation
  • Initially intriguing story and plot twists
  • Fantastic production values
  • Very attractive cast

What You May Not:

  • Story takes too long to build itself
  • Later story details do not feel satisfactorily explained
  • Overall characterization is fairly low
  • No clear villain

What You’ll Remember:

  • How beautifully “clean” the future can be

In 2010, American director Joseph Kosinski was given his chance for a breakthrough film with his debut directorial feat in Tron: Legacy. While the film was a marvel of visual splendor, offering up some grand ideas to modern CGI effects, it failed to truly wow critics with a story that could have been leagues beyond itself, and characters who though looked great, put forth mostly basic performances; great expectations despite its early 80s predecessor being mostly a flop. So while there were no other works to measure Kosinski’s abilities on the director’s chair, the popularity Tron received commercially through word of mouth, merchandising, home video, and of course beholding the Disney name, all gave Kosinski a worthy enough name in film direction. Now in 2013 we receive Oblivion, a completely original sci-fi film that is surprisingly (for our time) not based off a book, play, TV show, or any former piece of media or idea whatsoever; a film not only containing Kosinski’s name again as director, but also a couple of A-list Hollywood giants in the forms of Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman to hopefully outdo his last work. Now although the film does achieve some good intentions through its technical prowess, it does so mostly in the form Tron:Legacy did, only this time unfortunately without the Disney name, thus meaning less revenue in merchandising and overall fanaticism.

Oblivion stars Tom Cruise as Jack Harper, a man living and working in a post-apocalypse Earth, which fell into a grand interstellar war against beings called “scavengers” from a distant planet looking to garner more resources elsewhere. Though the human race of Earth won this war, it came at the cost of an actual inhabitable planet, which became completely ravaged and water torn, forcing humans to begin preparations to move to a livable moon of Saturn, yet in the meantime all taking residence on an elaborately built space station nearby until the Saturn moon becomes ready. Jack Harper and female companion Vika, played by beautiful English actress Andrea Riseborough, are both assigned to a station in the middle of an Earth desert in order to both clear out any remaining drones on land in addition to create energy from the remaining water left using another intricate system. In this setup it is Harper who goes out to do the dirty work whereas Vika aids him with coordinates and satellite feeds from the station. Soon they both notice some unidentified vessels crashing on Earth nearby and discover that there are a few sleep chambered survivors in one of them, one of which happens to be a mysterious beautiful woman who we later learn to be named Julia, played by Ukrainian model and actress Olga Kurylenko, who has inexplicably been flashing in and out of Harper’s dreams for a significant while. Once she is released Harper begins to see his past revealed in ways he never before expected or even foresaw, and must come to question his own past, existence, and ultimate purpose from then on.

In addition to Harper’s story, we have a hideout group who the team of Harper and Vika original thinks of as scavengers, yet discover are actually a small army looking to end the war once and for all with these scavengers (or whichever ones are strangely enough still on Earth, even though their part in the war has been lost for a long time). The team is led by Beech, played by Morgan Freeman in a mostly passable and forgettable performance, as well as accompanied by plenty of civilians and head trooper Sykes, played with basic generic functionality by Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Yes, also forgettable. Harper’s story soon extends him towards this team and Oblivion becomes a film about the last remnants of war between the humans and… well, some random machines that have either gone haywire or have been hacked by the actual scavengers themselves. Unfortunately, the lack of a real villain and similar sort of story plainness is ultimately where Oblivion‘s biggest issues lie, despite it being an epic futuristic vision in a similar vain to Kosinksi’s Tron.

Viewers will notice that the biggest show stoppers in Oblivion who do just enough to be called show stoppers are with star actors Cruise and Riseborough, whose relationship in the film, both platonic and non, becomes the most seductive, despite Cruise’s additional relationship with Kurylenko’s character. Upon opening we get a background synopsis of the current circumstances by Cruise, yet one may get the feeling that it doesn’t truly feel so much like Cruise is playing any sort of future sci-fi lone soldier, but really, just playing Tom Cruise. While he functions well as an actor here, there is nothing to really write home about in the end to establish Jack Harper as even a likeable hero. It’s forgivable, if a tad disappointing. Therefore it is a great save that director Kosinski has such an incredible eye for artistic visions, cinematography, and slick style filmmaking, as Oblivion is undoubtedly one of the most beautifully gorgeous examples of sci-fi cinematography in recent years or even the last decade entirely. While none of the actors really do enough to capture your heart, the stellar audio and visual presentation of Oblivion surely will, and that is indeed the film’s obvious highlight and cash cow. Vast and clear landscapes, ultra-clean indoor modern solid-colored furniture, incredibly slick machinery, and Kosinski’s very meticulous care and clever eye in establishing some very precise and well-placed props and actors within a set piece shot or camera pan, it all works to bring Oblivion’s lonely but immaculately epic atmosphere as a character all in itself. This is not even to mention the audio and technical sound effects; aside from the great HD transfer of it all, the film is constantly tossing the most pleasing and boastful futuristic sounds you’ll hear all year, and it is obvious the filmmaker’s had a specific love for all things sci-fi considering the ambitious audio presentation here. Everything a sci-fi nerd’s ear dreams about – robotic bleeps, zooms, machinery scans, phaser rifles, intercom distortions and other emissions – it’s almost overwhelming at certain spots, but always welcome and helps boost Oblivion to greater and more intriguing life. That being said, yes, on a technical level Kosinski once again impresses just as he did before.

Now while things all look and sound fantastic, the story front is where Oblivion falls short of capturing lots of its audience, despite the introduction bringing plenty of involving elements that are for the most part saved by intelligent direction which involves some very dreamscape-like use of camera pans and a low and subtle but seductive soundtrack. Yet though Kosinski has some sly tricks, the main crux of the plot simply takes far too long to get going, and granted that Morgan Freeman doesn’t appear on screen until an hour into the film being disappointing enough, this is where we finally get to the meat of our feature, and by this time the script only has so much to hold onto. It is at this point that the audience will begin to notice that Oblivion is not all it is cracked up to be… but that is until a very strange yet very interesting plot twist comes very and pleasingly unexpectedly our way; and though the film won’t lose you entirely up until that point, Oblivion gets a much needed boost that really should not have taken that long to get to. Some editing could have helped during the first hour, even if that would have cut the running time below two hours (as scary as it is to do that these days). Additionally, some logical questions with said plot twist are left suspended for a bit, my guess would be to aid with the film’s overall suspense, yet when we do finally get our answers they actually feel like a dose of spammy ham the writers clutched in at the last minute, almost as if they couldn’t think of an intriguing enough scenario themselves, thus making the actual plot twist feel more like a shoehorned act of desperation to keep audiences from tuning out altogether. This is of course bad news, not even coming to count in the fact that our small rebel army led by Freeman and Waldau feel too much like cardboard stills who really should have either been given a much greater character arc (or any really) or at least a more dominant presence. Many of the extras, if not all of them, are there for one reason and one reason only – to die. On our mainstay protagonists, we also are not granted either an interesting enough relationship or significant character growth to involve us enough towards them as people, despite being held over by some luscious special effects during the fast-paced firefights.

To add a little more insult to injury, said firefights are typically with flying drones sent over by what seem like those pesky scavengers whom the war is being fought against (you know, that war that supposedly ended decades ago?). The audience will eventually question what the real threat actually is considering not once in the entire film do we ever see the actual scavengers go up against any of our protagonists at all, but the only fights we do get are with our small army and self-aware flying droids; meanwhile, the scavengers do only appear in fewer scenes that can be counted on one hand, just spying on our good guys through binoculars but nothing else. An idea perhaps would have been to make them an actual presence if even to sacrifice some of the elongated establishing of the film’s first hour. This lack of an antagonist threat would in fact only leave the saving grace of Oblivion to be that plot twist mentioned earlier, and while it does play out to a somewhat satisfactory degree, there are still far too many questions by the film’s conclusion that simply were not explained thoroughly enough to feel as if it was something written with substantial talented intricacy, and may lead one to watch the film once again. To yours grinch truly’s own surprise, that idea would not be even all that bad, because despite these plot and script shortcomings, Oblivion has much going for it in the likes of its wonderful audio and visual persona as well as some moments of genuinely immersive character dialogue and a generally fantastically hypnotic atmosphere. Kosinksi does give us more old fashioned style over substance, but it is style that is so well envisioned that it does enough to make Oblivion a worthwhile endeavor, if never to come close to a classic piece of science fiction.

Extras:

A fairly fulfilling small bunch. Besides your expected commentary track there are a handful of deleted scenes that only last about thirty seconds to minute each. Next there is a five-part set of behind-the-scenes making-of featurettes which are impressively well produced, giving us different views on Oblivion, such as its locales, machinery, special effects, original storyboard ideas and conception, and stunt work. Each featurette gives us plenty of interviews with the crew, as well as Cruise, Riseborough and Kurylenko as cast; Freeman must have been busy, or realized his part was too underdeveloped to warrant an interview (I don’t blame him). There is also an option to play the film with or without a score. While the bunch is decent, it would have been a treat to either make the featurettes longer as they only last between five and eleven minutes each, or perhaps give us some trailers.

Graphics and Sound:

Oblivion is already an incredible film to see and hear already as a production, and the blu-ray transfer is incredibly close to matching it perfectly. On the visual front, the film looks just as good as it, well, looks. For the most part, the film is crystal clear and one of the more pristine transfers you will see on the market today; edges are beautifully sharp, colors are never blurry or soft with just the right touch of vividness, and close-ups are full of detail. Unfortunately, that ugly little monster called noise distortion does rear its annoying head every now and then; while these scenes are very few, they are noticeable when they pop up, and for such an amazingly clean transfer it really should not be the case. Forgivable but unnecessary. Now what would balance this small visual glitch out would be the seamless and perfected audio transfer. Kosinski does prove himself in the film as a true talent of sights and sounds, and on the sound front, the blu-ray is nothing short of spot-on perfection. Dialogue is clear and without fault, but what makes it even better is how well balanced it is with the other effects. All those sci-fi effects are made to sweep your ears off your head already, and are so rich and wondrous that they can almost be counted as music, and never do any of these become too overwhelming or disruptive throughout the film; therefore if the track would be shot out through even a basic sound system, it would still do much to take the film to some epic audio levels.

Final Verdict:

Kosinski for the most part has repeated himself from his last debut directorial outing, and while it is not completely bad news, Oblivion will hold less appeal to the mass audience that Tron: Legacy had, due both to not being an appealing factor to young children and whole families, but also as being even less relevant on the part of its post-theatrical performance. It is obvious that this film required a PG-13 rating if it wanted to gain any significant business at all, and such a holding back can be seen in the lack of blood and hesitancy towards more adult-oriented language and potential sexual tension. One can easily tell these could have worked further but were unfortunately only hinted at shortly. The film does contain some very significant positives that will make it a better treat to more hardcore sci-fi fans than your average movie-goer, and in the end that will be the deciding factor for viewers – does a science fiction atmosphere do enough to interest you given characters and a plot that do not do enough to grip you or be significantly relatable? A technical marvel beyond any doubt, the film seems to work best as a grand sci-fi filmmaking template, something filmmaking students can learn from, and not so much an emotionally relatable production that will hold itself in the minds and hearts of its viewers for some time to come. Worth a purchase for this specific type of fanatic to the genre, and a good rental for everyone else. I’d say 2.5 tets out of 4.

Elysium (2013) Theatrical review

What You May Like:

  • Stellar direction
  • Superb and downright seamless special effects
  • Excellently hate-worthy villains

What You May Not:

  • Jodie Foster’s cheesy accent and only standard performance
  • Social commentary could have been stronger
  • Matt Damon deserves more characterization

What You’ll Remember:

  • Damon’s bio-mechanical direct-download-to-cerebrum strengthening future armor

Back in 2009, South Africa hailing director Neill Blomkamp broke through to the American film public with his sci-fi action drama District 9; a film known more for its intelligently implemented and boisterously voiced social commentary on modern socioeconomic classes as well as their possible future repercussions over its intensity, yet with enough of a fast-paced story, breakthrough special effects action, and deeply invested characters to match wits with its science fiction peers to make it one of the more standout films in its genre of the last decade. In similar fashion, with significantly reflective directorial choices comes Blomkamp’s latest epic in what may be becoming a welcome habit in socially relevant storytelling, Elysium. Starring A-listers Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, as well as the main protagonist from District 9, Sharlto Copley, portraying the star villain, Blomkamp nearly matches wits entirely as his last Hollywood breakthrough, if trading some more real-world parallel commentary for a greater dose of stunning visual theatrics, yet still maintaining just as much equal entertainment value all the way around.

Elysium takes place in the middle of the 22nd century – the year 2154 if your grinch truly’s memory serves correct – where the world has become a completely segregated, corrupt, and dangerously overpopulated place to inhabit. Therefore, to maintain humanity’s typical lifestyle of soulless vanity, the most wealthy and distinguished citizens of Earth have built a space station land of sorts in outer space, named Elysium, at a distance relatively similar to that of the moon’s. In Elysium, the rich can still maintain their luxurious lifestyles with no disturbance from the suffering poor. The rich’s lands are beautifully clean, profoundly comfortable, and a place where any human physical flaws or illnesses of any sort can be instantly cured by small medical bays conveniently set in one’s own home in less than a minute’s time. Back on Earth, with our story centralized in Los Angeles, citizens live in shacks practically mounted on top of one another, plant life is virtually non-existent, an abusive military robotic police force has all humans on a fearful leash, and hordes of the population are starving, sick and dying of various illnesses. Here we meet Matt Damon who plays Max, a young parolee who is stuck in a dangerous factory job which produces more robot police units. Having dreamed of moving to Elysium as a young boy, Max’s story gets set in motion due to an accident at his workplace which puts his life in fatal danger. Getting back into contact with some of the hacker/future mafia rebellion movement Max used to work for, who now specializes in illegal immigration to Elysium, he is given a proposition by his former boss to hijack sensitive and confidential information as a trade-off to illegally enter Elysium. The sensitive information is held by an informant (William Fichtner) working for Delacourt (Jodie Foster), who is an Elysium political frontrunner who gets into some hot water with her superiors and devises a plan for greater power over the utopian space station. Now aside from Max is his female childhood best friend Frey, played by Alice Braga, a girl who grew up in the ruins along with Max, as sporadic flashback scenes tell us. Currently as an adult working as a nurse in a grossly understaffed and constantly busy ER, the two come back into contact, separated long years due to their dire circumstances. Along with many other sick, Frey’s young daughter is stricken with leukemia, for which the cancer’s final stages warrant Frey’s desire to get her to Elysium.

Aside from this initial cast, the previous main protagonist from District 9, Sharlto Copley, plays Kruger, a resident rogue “sleeper agent” of Los Angeles who is also under Delacourt’s orders to serve as a sole police force on Earth who can take care of much of the dirty work Delacourt requires, yet can still safely maintain under the radar of the Elysium political hierarchy. While his initial actions under Delacourt gets her to bump heads with her superiors, she then assigns Kruger to go after Max when he later holds some valuable information that has the potential to drastically change the course of history and both the rich and poor classes way of life.

Matt Damon has no problem tackling the sci-fi role, as from his plentiful Bourne Identity experience one can see that at this point he can not only take care of more emotionally driven scenes, but flex his combative and gun-toting muscles with the likes of other modern-day action stars, if not, satisfyingly moreso; being a star whose characters give you just the right mix of humility, confidence, fearlessness, and quiet determination, Damon successfully drives what works with Max, bringing Elysium a unique tone that other action stars would never have achieved in the film’s tonality intentions. That being said, while Damon doesn’t necessarily steal top bill here it mostly has to do with Max’s overall character arc, which although backed up by only a few childhood flashbacks, is unfortunately not given enough background as a grown man for the audience to care about him as much as they’d actually want to, which leads to one of the film’s more picky quips. Thanks to a few minor co-stars, such as his ex-boss hacker Spider (Wagner Moura) and best friend Julio (Diego Luna), who draw enough compassion from us rather quickly due to their friendship and loyalty to Max, Damon’s character is brought out to better life and helps Elysium establish itself rather firmly in the storyline department. Early on, it can be seen that Blomkamp has other intentions in mind with Elysium that stretch his action directorial muscles significantly more than District 9, and like his previous work’s prime focus on character compassion and a real world social message, Elysium is much more satisfied at keeping its tone as a gritty sci-fi action powerhouse, and it works to great benefit for its audience thanks to some of the most realistic and beautifully crafted mix of CGI, props, and explosive special effects to come in the last decade, even more than some of its best action films such as The Avengers and well, District 9. Such great ideas on screen here only multiply in magnitude once Max puts on the staple killer app of Elysium, that being his bio-mechanical suit which drills directly into his nervous system, systematically altering not only his brain capacity but also his physical strength and capabilities. Easily one of the best ideas in action films to come around in a very long time.

Now, many viewers may notice the intense visual similarities between this and Blomkamp’s previous epic sci-fi breakthrough, as not only is the cinematography in the same style, but the setting itself is in fact so similar that it almost seems as if after District 9‘s production shooting was wrapped up Elysium‘s crew moved directly in right after, complete with home sets and props and began filming. For Blomkamp to do a third film in the same light may come with the risk of pigeon-holing himself, even if the film meets or surpasses this one in level of quality.

So while the action visual spectacles are wonderfully fulfilling thanks to smart use of cameras angles and talented editing as well as other technical effects, the social message (or prospects of it) most expected from Blomkamp is somewhat unfortunately underutilized, similar to the character of Max not being given better background detail. Yet, one can argue there is not much to delegate about in the struggles of the poorer working classes vs. the advantages luxuries of the wealthy upper class, but Blomkamp could have very well fit even a smidget more in relation to our current political affairs, as there would not have been any danger in placing equal focus on story significance and action set-pieces. The fact that the vast majority of the film actually doesn’t take place on the Elysium space station but here on Earth, one can see how a further extension of more main characters in the wealthy class could have brought a bit more to what the script of Elysium had to play with. Yet as we have it, the rich play as nothing more than cardboard stand-ins, none of whom in the general public are ever highlighted in the slightest. Again, just another mild complaint. Yet what Blomkamp does with the action set-pieces here is nothing short of fantastic. Just like the alien beings in District 9, the robot droid police force on Earth look and move so realistically, and work with the on-screen actors with such seamless fluidity that it is almost like the filmmakers built actual living and functioning androids driven by real actors, or even just on their own. They are brought to shine mostly during the physical altercations and gunfights, along with the flying craft machines which switch from CGI to real life props with a brilliant efficiency that is virtually unnoticeable by the human eye. Given the environmental desolate dirtland settings of the film, such a future world perspective can hit pretty close to home, giving the audience something much closer to relate to than the purposefully plastic superficial scenery of the coveted world of Elysium.

Rounding off the most important aspects of the film is those of our two main vilains – Delacourt and rogue agent Kruger. both of which do their fair share of heartless and fatal actions towards the innocent public and protagonists, more than enough suited to elicit fuller cheers for good to prevail, yet maybe perhaps not counting the actual real life wealthy one-percent to whom this film may not completely register in the compassion or relatability departments. While Delacourt displays a completely unforgivable cold-heartedness towards any people not in line with her plans for more absolute power, it is merely her scripted actions which make this character so wretched to us, not the actress Jodie Foster herself. Perhaps being the one major downpoint to the film (shockingly, I agree, as it is the one and only academy award winning Jodie Foster), Delacourt is a character of French decent given it her primary language, whereas English she speaks with a French accent; it being a fairly to sometimes very poor job of an accent when in use. As interesting as it is being that in Elysium citizens are presented to mostly follow French and English as primary languages whereas those on Earth are in large majority dark-skinned and follow mostly Spanish and English, it would have made sense that any actors used to represent this atmospheric point be believable as such. With Foster at the helm of a character, it simply is not, as her performance really could have been done by just about anybody, and some who may have given us an accent that is not at sometimes downright laughably inconsistent. The redeeming factor here is that even with these flaws she still pulls off all that is necessary to make for a good villain. But in Elysium, the absolute show stealer here is the grander villain in the form of Krugar. Not only is Copley’s performance impeccably evil and brutally fearless, but throughout most of the film his relationship with Max plays off almost equal to the level of Batman and Bane from The Dark Knight Rises – an antagonist who displays all physical and motivational ability to truly threaten and potentially destroy the protagonist, in such a way that the hero’s well-being becomes grippingly realistic to the audience. Now when you factor in Max’s love for his childhood friend Frey and her sick daughter, as well as the potential to change the world, you get a film conflict that towards its conclusion gets you gradually more involved the longer the movie runs. It is somewhat of a disappointment then when the film eventually does end, as it will likely leave you clamoring for more, which is in itself a credit to the film. Recall those small quips previously mentioned? Lack of well-deserved characterization for Max, lack of exploration of any characters at all in the world of Elysium or the origins of Elysium itself? Even the starter implications in taking the relationship between Frey and Max to heightened friendship and/or romantic levels, Elysium could have very well have surpassed its somewhat disappointing 1 hour and 50 minute time length. Since there will likely be no sequel here, giving this film even a 2 and a half hour running time, if suggested plot extensions had been appropriately laid out, could Elysium have been much more satisfying than it stands. Yet make no mistake, what is actually here is excellent, mostly counting in pacing, editing, storytelling, villains, ideas, and superbly impressive special effects. There is no doubt that what has been created will harbor enough respectability and admiration even if such greater exposure comes in its blu-ray release. Thankfully, Blomkamp veered away from a 3D film, as it was entirely unnecessary.

Final Verdict:

Blomkamp has undoubtedly crafted one of the best sci-fi action films of the year. Never is his style glossy, boastful, or overly saturated with forcefully artistic intentions. It is obvious from the film that Blomkamp garnered great inspiration from his previous vision of a desolate and apocalyptic future, thought to extend the idea with a greater focus on technical marvels as opposed to just rehashing the same social commentary he may have already said his peace in. Keep in mind whether you are focused on sociological subtle messages or epically entertaining special effects and stylized violence, one does not necessarily trump the other but rather the style, passion and quality of filmmaking and writing make the decision. In both films Blomkamp cares about characters and emotional relevance, and while some may disagree with his current choice of not making messages and characterization his primary narrowed focus, others would agree that District 9‘s dramatics may have become a bit too contrived, elongated, and even fuzzy or incoherent at certain points. That being said, neither film seems necessarily better than the other, but just tailored towards different plot ideas, focuses and personal taste. In the end, such experimentation should be encouraged. Elysium does contain enough minor setbacks to overall lower its grade, and the greater potential for a landmark film do become more noticeable once analyzed to a certain degree, but as a stand-alone project, Elysium is a very solid and strong testament to what science fiction could be, and Blomkamp’s projects in the genre do more than enough to inspire great modern ideas to the likes of what The Matrix did for action filmmaking in the late 1990s. The story is incredibly relatable and disturbingly down to earth, with action set-pieces that will blow audiences out of their seats given the quality of direction alone. So much in fact that even non-science fiction fans looking for a great popcorn flick will get their full money’s worth; and while the term “popcorn flick” may seem something made up of cheap temporary thrills, it is still a description Elysium has a tendency to fall towards into at certain, but definitely not all, aspects. Whether one sees that description as a negative, there is simply no denying how grandly entertaining and intelligent Elysium actually is. While just a few hairs short of a modern classic, there is no doubting the talent and quality behind what the film does showcase for sci-fi fans. Therefore for both fans and non-fans of the genre, I would rate this as a strong 3 med bays out of 4.

The Wolverine (2013) Theatrical review

What You May Like:

  • The new very human-like Wolverine
  • Deep characterization and story are at the forefront
  • Some very passionate and dedicated performances

What You May Not:

  • Most action sequences have novice-level direction and are overly safe
  • Some CGI doesn’t look as good as it should
  • Hugh Jackman cannot fully tackle deeper scenes

What You’ll Remember:

  • A tie between Mega RoboSamurai and Tao Okamoto’s insane level of beauty

Just when you thought we didn’t have enough X-Men films, and especially after the last silver screen disappointing display of the Wolverine character back in 2009 with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, has a very bold attempt and almost “redo” for the beloved classic Marvel anti-hero been given reigns to a more artistic and character-driven director in James Mangold; responsible for ambitious and creative, if not always successful films such as Girl, Interrupted, Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma, Identity, Cop Land, Knight and Day, and Kate and Leopold. Just looking at that resume can make very devoted Wolverine fans raise a few eyebrows; how can such an artistic and at times amateur-like director (Knight and Day much, anyone?) be given primary vision towards a film franchise known for its mostly devoted comic fan-service high standards and creative action reveling in eye-candy and modern special effects? The answer now being a mostly grand very well, thank you. Considering that Mangold obviously didn’t have his eye on making just another futuristic “X-Men” movie at all, bravely switches the focus to take us out of the great U.S. of A entirely and plop Wolverine directly in the face of the Japanese Yakuza political gang wars, as well as giving the clawed superhero an entirely near human-frail makeover, limiting action altogether and rather placing just as much characterization on a female counterpart, who acts much the Yin to Wolverine’s Yang. Or to further elaborate – a branded, shiny, flashy, futuristic typical X-Men film this is most definitely not, granting the audience a man who hardly feels like an X-Man at all. Mangold did not only have his work cut out for him, but treats it like his beloved baby all the way through, and much appreciated it shall be by the vast majority of movie audiences, even the most avid Wolverine fanatics.

The Wolverine‘s title alone is one that implies a character study instead of an adventure or origins tale – who is Wolverine? What are his intentions? What happens to him as a man after all the events of the previous X-Men trilogy? Surely one does not continue to fight crime on city streets, placing pick-pockets in jail and stopping low-brow alley gang fights, especially after taking down such a tremendous world-dominant force as Magneto. The answer, as the film has it, is nothing, really. Wolverine starts off as nothing more than a downtrodden, nomadic hobo of sorts, whose decision to save a Japanese military soldier decades ago from a nuclear explosion, before any other X-Men films took place, comes back to place him in the middle of a Japanese war for corporate power. Being played once again by actor Hugh Jackman, the standards the actor must now meet have been leveled up considering the overall tone and character focus here; thankfully while Jackman doesn’t have the chops to entirely steal the show, one can tell he is giving nothing less than a hundred percent. At start, we do meet Wolverine, or better, Logan (his actual character name) hiding out in a deep well bunker in the middle of a Japanese war, and takes it upon himself to save one man who is about to commit suicide after the dropping of a nuclear bomb nearby that is set to a grand extermination radius. When the young man is saved by Logan, he is dazzled and entranced by his incredible self-healing powers. Having parted ways almost immediately, we meet up with Logan decades later after all of the events of the X-Men trilogy have already taken place, including the downfall of Magneto as well as the death of his love Jean Grey, who still appears to Logan in memories and dreams, played by the always gorgeous Famke Janssen.

Having no real place in society anymore, and doing away with his superhero mutant name, our now broken-hearted and embittered protagonist sets his own small fights for justice, and in the initial instance being the inhumane death of a wild forest bear by some drunken deadbeat local town hunters. Confronting the men in a small bar, Logan is mysteriously and surprisingly confronted by a petite auburn-haired young Asian girl named Yukio, who tells Logan that the most powerful man in Japan wishes to meet with him in order to say a very long-awaited goodbye, the man being the near-dead soldier, Yashida, who owes his life to the Wolverine from decades past. From there on in, we are treated to some creative ideas for special effects as to how now old and sickly Yashida is being treated, as well as very well executed and timed comic relief, a trend that director Mangold certainly has a knack for given the refreshing amount of creative humor in Wolverine. Not yet ready for death even after so many decades, Yashida proposes to “switch” health abilities with Logan, giving his mortality to the former X-Man, who is essentially sick and exhausted from what he sees as a self-healing and immorality curse placed on him, and in turn have Wolverine grant the old dying man’s wish to be immortal, thus ensuring his narcissistic neverending reign of power over his giant Japanese corporate conglomerate. Unbeknown to Logan, Yashida’s ambitious son, Shingen, has had his eye set on his father’s death for far long, in order to take over, yet due to varying circumstances the corporate throne shall instead be passed to Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko, played with dead-on execution and impressive passion by actress Tao Okamoto, to whom Wolverine being her debut feature film. From the start, the film highlights the sheer beauty of this woman, and as does seem Logan is well to notice; Okamoto can arguably perhaps be the most beautiful Asian woman on the planet as far as yours grinch truly is concerned, and her character Makido in all her sullen and humble, yet deeply embedded bravado, presented with a loving soft-hearted kindness is the unexpected absolute show-stopper of The Wolverine.

From here Wolverine becomes a story of cat and mouse, with Logan taking on the role of Makido’s bodyguard, protecting her with a mostly unknown motivation, but perhaps due to his relationship with Yashida as his own son is dead set out to capture her and perhaps worse. This foundational plot device almost feels like something straight out of 80s and 90s action films – run away from bad guys by escaping to various locales while growing as characters together, intermixing new plot twists all the way through; thankfully the story keeps the characters consistent in their mission and even personalities, which works well to keep them relatable to us. Now it’s during this first act that we also meet Yashida’s seductively beautiful doctor alter ego, mutant Viper, played by Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova, most well known for her only American role in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Similarly, Makido’s former love interest now self-made protector (due to a personal vow to Yashida), ninja Harada, played by Will Yun Lee; both are secondary characters but have their own motivations for eventually working to get their means finished within the overall plot, they add their own genuinely interesting twists and thrills to the film, including how significantly Viper weakens Logan’s mutant powers. Lee is nothing too special, and Svetlana does well at creating such a mysterious seductive beauty initially, but later during the film’s final act becomes sort of an afterthought, a fairly heavy-handed character, kiddish in her near plastic Barbie doll presentation, and could seriously benefit from a sandwich. These two add a good amount to the film’s enjoyment, bringing about circumstances that affect our protagonists significantly, even if they do not come off as anywhere too memorable themselves.

Even though Mangold does introduce both the main plot template and characters with standard technical efficiency, from the very first action sequence involving a raid on a local Buddhist temple from the Yakuza gang, does Mangold show that his skill to direct enthralling and thrilling action scenes feel like something from a film student with a large budget on his hands. It’s a positive that action in Wolverine is kept to a necessary minimum, because though more enclosed battles do offer some slick martial arts action in impressive and stylized flips and attacks, more broad range ones not only toss in a decent flair of disappointing looking CGI effects (that really should look much better for a 2013 Hollywood film), but contain an annoying overuse of shaky cam and close-up shots, nearly killing much of the wide range establishing foreground viewers actually need to be able to make out what sort of death-defying stunts the characters are actually going through. For example, in a scene where Harada is jumping over various rooftops to chase the Yakuza thugs, Mangold keeps the camera too close to the actor, then cutting away much of his long jumps but leaving the audience completely blind to how high the jumps are, Harada’s expressions before, during, and after them, and ultimately killing our perspective and any real thrills we are supposed to take away from the scene. The same can be said for the martial arts fighting, that are not only too closely shot, with a plethora of unnecessary edits that keep us from seeing who is actually fighting or getting hit, and where the attacks are landing, but due to keeping the PG-13 rating, even Wolverine’s own claws shed very little to no blood, even though he is continuously stabbing and slashing enemies. God forbid we get an R-rated Wolverine film, especially for an anti-hero as embittered and sinister in his approach as Wolverine. Such a safety net just feels unnecessary, and one that it seems the film itself is even discouraged with and crying to do away with. Even one great idea for a train rooftop fight does offer some gripping moments, the just average green screen work keeps it from being more than it was trying for. If you’re interested in the 3D version of the film, just take note that this one train scene is the only one where a 3D viewing would most noticed. Given how artificial the scenes comes off, it isn’t the treat one might be hoping for. In other words, don’t bother spending the extra money on the 3D version. This technical setback of action directing seems the biggest issue during the first half of the film, action sequences later on taking place in more enclosed places fare better, yet have little to do with the direction but more to do with the talent of the actors, most notably the very athletic and tough-as-nails Rila Fukushima, who plays Logan’s self-proclaimed “bodyguard” Yukio, who, for lack of a better description, kicks absolute freaking ass. There is much scene-stealing this young woman achieves as well, much that Hugh Jackman just can’t seem to do all on his own. And while it is unfortunate that Mangold’s action direction is for the most part pretty sloppy, he more than makes up for it when giving us some of the best characterization and story pacing this franchise has ever seen, which makes its audience care so much for the characters that we almost do not even notice the technical shortcomings of the more intense scenes.

Wolverine‘s focus here is primarily two different relationships – first being the one between Logan and Makido, to which there is much chemistry, most thankfully to actress Tao herself, who through a dedicated performance delivers dialogue with realistic essence and body language that goes beyond enough to charm the viewer throughout; she does it with wisdom and maturity, not by being blatantly and superficially cute. Though Jackman does meet her eye to eye for the most part in dialogue, it can become apparent that he is actually trying very hard to do so. Such effort is well appreciated, but the acting chops on Jackman’s part for deeper more serious scenes between the two do not flow naturally out of Jackman as well as from Tao, yet the story between the two is still there, and does offer so much worthwhile growth that there is very little need for any action in the end. We of course must remember though that this is primarily labeled as an action picture. The second relationship focus here is that of Wolverine himself, the continuous struggle with having to deal with this self-made protection gig over Makido, his desire to leave his superhero status and name altogether, as well as his own embittered nature due to much of the grief over the loss of his former love Jean who he simply cannot seem to forget or take steps in overcoming. Likewise, Makido can parallel Logan’s self struggles with those of her very own family, who at some point only becomes Yukio herself considering everyone else’s betrayals. Yet whatever the two endure, director Mangold’s desire and specialty for close-up shots, the ones out of place during those initial action scenes, does come as an advantage in this regard, as one can tell he has his heart invested in each character’s expressions, emotions, circumstantial fears, and sense of self. Steady use of zoom-in and establishing shots when there is more than one on screen, the viewer feels almost romanticized by their expressive fears, doubts, and subtle mannerisms, thus making way for more involving intense scenes when they just escape death by hairs; you truly start to root for these characters as they become one with the audience. This kind of direction is completely fitting with Mangold’s true artistic strengths. As mentioned earlier, all protagonists remain focused on their primary mission throughout, and while it leads to them becoming more and more reliable as people to us as the audience, it is Logan himself who comes off so vastly frail, broken, human, and real, one cannot help but ache during his weakest moments. This is the crux of what makes Wolverine so vastly different from previous X films. Are there still those typical Hollywood last minute contrived clutch saves? Of course, but at this point those are all just expected from movies, regardless of quality. Once things culminate during the film’s climactic battles, it seems Mangold gets a better sense of how to direct his final action scenes in a way that make more sense and are more satisfying. though it is perhaps just do to the fact that there are far less characters on screen. The CGI itself even begins to fare better. Overall Mangold is given a much better script to work with by the second half of the film, not that he goes about it badly the first half, but in terms of plot twists, surprises, character growth, and the revealing of newer enemies, including one of the most far-fetched yet intimidating foes in Marvel’s villain resume, a giant steel robot Samurai, Wolverine ends in a fine hoorah of bombastic action, one set to please audiences completely granted some technical quips from the first half that are easily remedied.

Final Verdict:

The Wolverine never truly fails or falls flat in any department minus the technical setbacks of the first act that may not immediately be noticeable to everyone, but despite however much better the film could be, it could very easily have been worse. Taking on a central character story after such a bomb with Wolverine’s last film outing was a risky endeavor, something that could have buried not only the character but also Jackman’s career as an action star. Fortunately, the film succeeds where any truly great film should – story and characters. Since Mangold holds such priority to bring us one with these two, Logan and Makido, this is what we’ll take away from the film most. Logan as the Wolverine is much more man than mutant this time around, in physical ability as well as complexity of heart, and his aiding leading ladies throughout the journey are brought out and highlighted just as wondrously with Makido and Yukio – two characters who do just as much to bring out Logan’s true realizations of self as Logan himself. He would have been lost without either of them, even though he was set out to protect one of them. Even going to such a detail as the Wolverine claws, they are kept to minimal use, a plot element at times to act as a character accessory the way someone like Dirty Harry is with his revolver – it never overtakes him and just feels like an arm or leg given how subtle and unobtrusive it is.

Whether Mangold does direct another adaptation has yet to be seen, and granted the sheer level of originality displayed here, that would be a wise choice, granted if the technical quips could also be addressed. The Wolverine is fast-paced, funny, fully entertaining, emotionally gripping, and could be argued as on par or even better than the last X hit, First Class. It’s great to see that a franchise would take such a risk as to worry more about people than effects, even if in the effects department things could have been a bit more realistically portrayed, regardless if the teenage crowd would be turned away due to an R rating or not. Given the level of emotional depth and plot investment, the film is quite honestly more geared towards mature audiences anyway. Let’s hope any sequel bring just as much and more. Definitely recommended, a strong and bold 3 Yakuzas out of 4. Add a half Yakuza if you’re already a fan of the X film series.

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013) Blu-ray review

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What You May Like:

  • Unique and engaging storyline
  • Great action with unapologetic violence factor
  • Vivid, smooth and slick animation

What You May Not:

  • Not too significant of a villain present
  • Some substandard voice actors
  • A few story details are a bit convoluted

What You’ll Remember:

  • The darker and grittier version of Batman

From the fantastical minds that have brought us a vast library of ambitious feature length films featuring Marvel and DC Universe heroes comes the latest installment centered primarily on the Flash character and his Barry Allen alter ego. Staple DC film creator names such a Jay Oliva, Geoff Johns, and James Kreig carry the roles of director, story, and screenplay respectively, all of whom have a steady and respectable resume of comic and various children’s animated features, and with their new creation matters are taken down an unapologetic path of a more complex yet engaging storyline, darker characters, and more explicit bloodshed. The Flashpoint Paradox gives us a refreshingly original screenplay that absolutely earns its PG-13 rating, not simply for the violence factor, but also for direction to present a story with a good variety of interwoven character story arcs that give a great balance of history and the present character personalities fans have all come to recognize, but not necessarily told in a manner that non-adolescents will easily comprehend; a characteristic of Paradox that both helps and limits it just enough from a true breakthrough in animated action.

Paradox stars a hefty handful of DC Universe names with mostly good, if some sub-par voice performances that eventually become unimportant considering how gripping the story soon becomes. Names include Justin Chambers as the Flash, C. Thomas Howell playing nemesis Professor Zoom/ Eobard Thawne, Michael B. Jordan as Cyborg, and more famous ones with smaller roles such as Nathan Fillion as the Green Lantern, and Ron Pearlman as Deathstroke; yet the cast is pretty vast considering the amount of DC stars who make an appearance. Judging from the front cover, one thinks they’re in for a story involving the Flash, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg, but to our surprise other heroes give some cameos, as well as some fairly significant roles, such as Superman and the Green Lantern. Upon opening, we get the background behind Flash himself, and how his mother was murdered by a home intruder when he was just a boy. Immediately being taken into his adulthood visiting his deceased mother’s grave, Barry Allen woodenly expresses regrets as to how he should have done more to save his mother, however exaggerated a grown man could be about something he obviously had no control over at just 8 years old; soon the thankfully brief introduction to him is quickly forgotten when we meet Flash’s nemesis Eobard Thawne terrorizing a local city Flash museum along with his own posse of greedy but dimwitted thugs such as Boomerang and Captain Cold, otherwise known as the Rogues. Here is where Flash is aided by his own Justice League posse that we are also introduced to – your standard Green Lantern, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg – all working as a cohesive team to settle the matter. A good and solid opening, even if some characters appear a bit rushed in production.

The story takes a strange turn fairly quickly and may even go over a few viewers’ heads; suddenly we see Flash at his city news offices where word is spreading about the world’s apparent Armageddon, to which Flash suddenly and unexpectedly runs into his mother, who wonders why Barry is acting to strangely. His mother being alive is not the only strange difference, as we then see Barry’s love interest Iris as a wife and mother to another man, as well as are introduced to far more bitter, sinister, and unforgiving version of Batman, who apparently now forgoes any of the moral ethics of crime fighting we know him so well for. Lastly, and perhaps the biggest strange change to Barry’s seeming dreamworld is the fact that not only are Wonder Woman and Aquaman enemies, but their respective Amazon and Atlantis kingdoms have waged war against each other which is breaking down the world around them, nearing the end of it, all due to Wonder’s murder of Aqua’s wife after an extramarital affair between the two gone array. When Barry tries to make sense of matters he goes to visit the Batcave to get some answers, only to be beaten and questioned by this new darker version of the Dark Knight. Yet it is there that Barry discovers that his opposite “reverse-Flash” nemesis Professor Zoom, or Eobard Thawne is behind the strange set of circumstances in a way Barry cannot yet piece together. Then in an action-packed subplot, we meet Lex Luthor as he is trying to take control of a doomsday weapon aboard a military ship; a rather quick subplot that is there just to tie up the main villain of this new reality, that being Aquaman and yet another surprise that he will use as the weapon to defeat Wonder Woman’s Amazon kingdom, as well as the world around it. While everyone is downtroddenly helpless in accepting of the world’s fate, Cyborg seems the only one trying to take genuine steps to save it, unfortunately he gets orders from the president of the United States – an interesting animated impersonation of current president Obama – to stand down and be relieved of his duty. In a mild setback to the film itself, actor Michael B. Jordan (I guess not to mistake him with THE Michael Jordan), gives too stale of a voice-acting performance, yet due to the constantly growing story, this is similarly forgotten as Flash’s intro was. There is yet another plot twist involving the whereabouts of Superman, whose backstory no longer has him crash landing and meeting up with his rural country farm parents, but instead locked away by a government conspiracy experiment. Relatedly so, another subplot exists involving Lois Lane and her investigation of Wonder Woman’s Amazons, yet she soon meets up with a small band of resistance fighters who act as a third side to the war, desiring to stop the fighting that will inevitably destroy the planet.

What follows there on in is not only Flash’s mission to figure out his jogging memories of both realities clashing in on each other, but also his now smaller team’s task to figure out who and what will bring about doomsday, as well as what could be done to stop the war between the Amazon and Atlantis. The characters in Paradox are ever evolving, constantly changing in circumstances and also the motivations of each small or large band of armies, keeping the audience constantly engaged; and thanks to some greatly edited action sequences, completely enthralled as to the conclusion of each superhero, even those who have not necessarily turned evil, but whose priorities have gone astray due to old flames and hurts still held onto. The sheer amount of DC characters are so vast here in fact that the viewer is best recommended to get at least two full viewings to not only miss things lost during the first, but also appreciate how well balanced the story is told to us. A negative may be that some elements can come off as a bit convoluted, but the redeeming factor being that upon a second viewing there is lots to catch missed the first time around. Even minor characters such as Lois Lane’s resistance team, namely leader Grifter, are quick to impress, to whose credit should mostly go to not only the great use of voice-acting (the good talent does in fact outweigh the stale), but also each character’s presentation. The newer version of Batman himself is a thoughtful welcome treat, and though he is the best aspect of the film in terms of a character, it is all due to some greatly written dialogue. Sarcastic quips, strong personalities, and just enough slick animated acting to not let matters become too lighthearted, the way each character speaks is constantly focused on the story and matters at hand, never pandering the audience to cheap gags or childish jokes; moments of comic relief are perfectly placed. Director Jay Olivia displays absolute mindful skill, not only in his great pacing of the story, but also how well he is able to balance each story arc in such a limited 80-minute running length; such a task is much more difficult to achieve than perhaps thought. What should also be mentioned is the more ruthless violence factor present. While the film is nowhere near an R-rated level of blood, there are some fairly hardcore scenes that may surprise viewers, even those who have had experience with PG-13 animated features prior. Had being done with real actors in live action, the film would have easily gotten an R, yet it seems it is only the animation which keeps it suitable for teenagers. Yet for everyone, the shining star here is the story itself, which gives us one of the most unique and creative takes on time-travel plots to come along in a long while, even for an animated film. There is much in terms of originality, and not once does there feel any instant where we can argue logic problems, keeping an open mind of course.

So while the story does most to grant us one fantastic action feature, the focus on Flash himself brings a heap to the table. Since Flash experiences two different realities, his memories begin to widen out of nowhere and eventually clash in on themselves, only to come to a certain point of peace later on, but it is his character struggle alone during all the circumstances that keeps him growing as a man. Sure, while initially his voice work was a bit stale, it seems to actually improve as the film goes on, so such a complaint is definitely minor in the long run. Though not all characters go through a change or grow during the film, most of the main characters do, and again, to do it in such a limited running time only makes us wish the film could have run about 15 minutes longer. This also helps to keep the viewer engrossed in every detail of what is going on, even if the film presents some of the story points a bit too quickly, so as stated almost forces more than one viewing; not a setback given the worthy entertainment value. What some may dislike is that since there is so much focus on time travel and character growth, there is not too much of a villainous presence. Sure, while Aquaman and Wonder Woman are the main causes of what is bringing about the end of the world, their conflict is more one-to-one, not with the world so much, and as we learn later on, Flash’s arch nemesis Eobard Thawne has less of an involvement as we had initially hoped or could foresee. Therefore, the villain aspect of Paradox is not so much absent, but meets almost the minimal amount required to be appreciated. Yet due to the nature of the story itself, a more ruthless and present villain may have taken away from the grand intentions, especially at a shorter time length. Had this been a full two-hour feature, there could definitely have been some great possibilities to beef up the good we already have, as well as give Flash a more threatening situation than he is already in. Even if the end of the world does seem pretty drastic, there is not too much intensity here when thinking of Flash’s actual survival. In the end, it’s more of a superficial setback that as good as the film it, could not really help unless broadened to a longer running time.

Quick and thrilling edits during battles, vibrant animation (as expected), satisfying bloodshed, and a vividly in-your-face effects soundtrack that will have audio aficionados scrambling to turn up their speakers, Paradox can arguably be the named as the best Marvel/DC films to date. Jay Oliva has easily put a great achievement to his resume, especially for a main superhero who can sometimes be seen as a more uncared for underdog in the DC Universe as the Flash, but he definitely does get his just do in the action-packed, truly ambitious, and wholly satisfying Paradox.

Extras:

As usual from Marvel/DC original films, we get a good handful, but moreso lacking in the department of this actual film itself. There are two full featurettes; in the first, “A Flash in Time” is a 22-minute feature with some of the film’s creators interviewed about the process, possibilities, risks, and improbabilities of time travel itself, with some more historic information about famous philosophers and their take on it as well; some of the comic canon is mentioned to boot and keep discussion grounded. Next is “My Favorite Villain: The Flash Bad Guys,” with some interviews with the same film creators commenting on some of Flash’s most famous enemies in his own comic book history, including a few in the film itself; more to the liking of Flash fans, this may not entirely appeal to those just interested in the DC movies. Otherwise there is a DC vault that we usually get of 4 cartoon episodes, standard commentary track, a fairly long 8-minute sneak peak at the next DC Universe film iteration entitled War, and a preview sample of one of the Flashpoint comics in the new series. For a Target store exclusive feature there is one downloadable 34-page comic, being #1 of The New 52, of the new Flashpoint comic series. Unfortunately there are no features that talk about the making of this particular film itself.

Graphics and Sound:

Paradox displays a mostly stellar presentation of a blu-ray transfer. Being an animated feature, there is as usual not enough demand to detail as to live action films, but given that, the animation is still super clean and vibrant. While things can always be better, to nitpick would be to mention that colors could have been given a bit more vividness, as some more naturally loud colors such as Flash’s red or Green Lanterns greens are not super flashy as some may wish. To argue, giving them more of a popping effect may run the risk of overdoing the amount of color saturation; again, that would be to nitpick. There are virtually no instances of distortion and an unnoticable amount of pixelation during fast-moving scenes, therefore the frame rate is beautifully smooth and well kept. Yet as great as the picture is, the sound production is where Paradox put all its HD cards on the table. To mention how crystal clear the dialogue is would be just the start. The core of how grand or epic any action feature is sound-wise would be to measure how well sound effects come through, and to this Paradox does one of the most stellar jobs that yours grinch truly’s ears have ever had the pleasure of making out. The film effects are loud, robust, full, bombastic, detailed, and exciting. Every punch, explosion, gun shot, smack, and even footstep are placed to a perfect level of balance, and never do things become too loud or too low, much less ever obnoxious or irritating. The sound on its own brings a whole new level of engrossment to the film that any flaws within would have harmed the whole, and yet Paradox keeps things fantastically produced all the way through. This is truly animated sound gold.

Final Verdict:

The Flashpoint Paradox is chock full of great production values and other top-notch technical achievements, such as animation and sound design. It doesn’t end there, as the story elements are so vast and detailed that it only could leave room for further investigation if a sequel were ever considered, but not that it would be practical. If there is any setback to the story itself is that the film did not run long enough for a fuller story to be produced, one where some of the villains could have had a better role or taken a greater lead, such as Aquaman and Wonder Woman. Being that The Flash himself was the center of attention, as well as his own character development, the film could only do so much. Still, these complaints are mostly superficial and hypothetical “could be’s,” as Flashpoint can still maintain itself as one of the greatest DC Universe films, if not THE best DC film to date, of course disregarding any live action ones, many of which this can still easily trump. Though not intended for younger children, it’s a grandiose action-infested treat of a film for anyone else. While not being an animated action classic, there is still enough great here that shows true passion and determination to the characters stories as well as the fans by the filmmakers. It’s a welcome breathe of fresh air that though having released about 20 films so far, DC still holds just as much integrity and commitment to fans as ever, without ever resorting to cheap sellout tactics or quick cash-ins. Many newcomers will also easily appreciate how accessible the story is, granted if they know even the most basic backstories to the main characters (namely those of Flash, Superman and Batman). A definite recommendation for casual fans and an absolutely strong one to DC ones, a solid 3.5 Armageddons out of 4. Yours Grinch truly is absolutely looking forward to the next film Justice League: War set for this coming winter season.

Sinister (2012) Blu-ray review

What You May Like:

  • Ethan Hawke’s genuinely good performance
  • Cryptic atmosphere and tone keeps your attention
  • A good idea for a villain

What You May Not:

  • Riddled with modern horror cliches
  • Next to zero chemistry with primary characters
  • Typical jump scares lack originality

What You’ll Remember:

  • How even during daytime, everything can still remain pitch black

While horror films have certainly evolved within the last 30 years, taking into account the cheesy low budget slashers of the 70s and 80s, to those of a higher class within the 80s decade into the 90s, introducing more supernatural elements and psychological elements, horror is a genre that has certainly seen its fair share of change. Such changes seem to coincide with what a particular culture would perhaps prefer, yet this is no real surprise as all entertainment mediums must mature and grow in one way or another. While some work as blatant knock-offs, others borrow various elements from other films to present us with an entirely new, but altogether not entirely original story. Sinister, one of the more popular and critically acclaimed horror films of this current generation now comes to bring us what many others in the genre have seemed to become accustomed to for the 2000s era; yet whether some may like or dislike it, there is certainly a vibe within these types of films (this time harboring what seem strictly supernatural plot threads) that keep its returning customers happy, and Sinister certainly presents that vibe to the nth degree with enough oomph to keep our attention, even if it’s based on a palette we may have already experienced numerous times prior.

Sinister comes to us from director Scott Derrickson, the brains behind some fairly cheap but still somewhat relevant horror and thriller films such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Hellraiser: Inferno. Here, we have star Ethan Hawke playing Ellison Oswalt, a 30-something family man and professional author of various famous detective and crime thriller novels that he bases on real life events. Ellison decides to move his wife Tracy, played with a very basic and standard delivery by actress Juliet Rylance, and two young children to a new home in a small town in order to help Ellison gather enough research for his new novel, a work that is based on the true story of a murdered family that was killed right in the very home they are moving into. Upon arrival, Ellison is immediately given a very cold welcome by the local sheriff, who is straight in his proposal that the family leave as soon as possible so as to avoid any disrespectful reminders of those catastrophic events for the town. From here on in it comes to our knowledge that Ellison is really the only person who desires this new residence, while everyone else seems in constant disagreement; a good start considering we really only get to know Ellison throughout over anyone else. Whence unpacking, Ellison finds an old reel-to-reel machine with various homemade family reel films packaged neatly together, almost seemingly left on purpose. When things are a bit more settled with their move Ellison decides to watch the videos, only to find some truly horrific content on them, such as scenes and brutality and torture to not only the family that was killed in the home, but others as well. It is from here that Ellison soon discovers a more supernatural element at play, and must further investigate the circumstances not only for his novel, but for his own peace of mind as to who would film such content, as well as why the materials were left so conveniently in the attic. Thankfully the only ally Ellison finds is that of a local officer who, unlike his boss sheriff, is an actual fan of Ellison’s previous works. Due to Ellison’s past as a writer being more of a one-hit wonder story, he is all the more poised to find answers in the hopes of his next novel being his second breakthrough hit.

Derrickson is thankfully working with a decent enough script, albeit easily of higher quality than some of his previous straight-to-video works, and it shows. Sinister initially sucks the audience in for no other reason than its gloomy atmosphere and fatigued character moods, set to a decidedly dark and glum color palette; as is typical we see the same cliched surroundings and introductions you would expect from a modern horror showing  – continuous cloudy daylight, small house in a rural area, small town sheriffs, low lighting, slow-panning cameras, etc. Yet this style, although unoriginal, works, but perhaps only for reasoning of it being a horror film and such a familiar build-up for later scares never fails to entice audiences, even if they tend to be the more casual ones. However much the film faults won’t really be appreciated until it’s over. What is worth mentioning is the idea for the opening shot, being an extremely creepy one that stills itself for a good minute while we as the audience try to figure out what exactly we’re looking at. Small ideas like it give the film a unique feel, although they are way too few and far between. So once the script gets to the gritty and us knowing where the plot leads, does the film do what feels like a non-stop repetition of the same circumstance, almost on a loop. Ellison works on his novel at night whilst his family sleeps, therefore giving us a forgivable plot convenience as to why all the ensuing scares are happening to Ellison on his own, as well as for the sake or perhaps the writers not knowing exactly how to lead the rest of the family into the plot. What suffers here is the characterization relationships within the family. We soon come to see that even though the young son displays some night terrors as to which may or may not be related to the supernatural scares Ellison is experiencing, and his wife Tracy at time sprinkling in some obligatory tension, the family may as well not even exist considering how irrelevant they are to the entire story as actual growing people, instead of the cardboard obligatory stand-ins (since the former family was murdered, it would make sense a new family is threatened). Furthermore, not until you see Ellison and his wife Tracy share a bed do you actually come to realize she is his wife; only due to that Tracy plays better to the aunt or best friend type of role. Would it have been a huge bother to hire a more talented or bigger name actress? Obviously the film knows what story it wants to tell and prioritizes its characters accordingly, thus meaning that Hawke gets first bill for almost every portion of the film.

So this leaves us with Ellison, the author who seems to experience these cheesy scares in the following type of repetitive loop – work on some research material at night by watching another spooky unknown reel video, hear some strange noise, go to investigate, find out it’s really nothing, cheap jump scare, give the audience a hint as to the supernatural element living in the house, rinse and repeat. This formula repeats several times within the film, and after a few takes begins to feel like some kind of a joke by the filmmakers. But the question here being, are they actually scary? To the hardcore old-school horror fanatic, usually never, give for one or two creative scenes that do raise a few hairs on the creep factor are certainly present, yet it’s quite a shame that one of them was already ruined within the movie’s trailer. There are an overwhelming amount of scenes featured in darkness, even strangely enough during daylight hours, where our main man Ellison insists on checking every creepy sound; this really being the meat of the film, it is a thankful thing that Derrickson does well enough in his direction to not make things boring or unwatchable, but only mildly entertaining and tolerable; the darkness helps, but there feels nothing original in the style of cinematography, camera use and angles, or soundtrack. Therefore, it is not so much about the formulaic content of the film that keeps the audience interested, but instead some more technical aspects of the film itself; the first being that Ethan Hawke himself carries the movie all on his own, and if it had not been for his good performance and dedication to the role, Sinister would have felt like your standard straight-to-video feature just like many of Derrickson’s previous films, and probably would have been. Secondly, the invisible villain supernatural force here, specifically an old pagan deity, is a unique idea in a sea of cookie-cutter modern horror films featuring nameless demons of whatever sort taking over people’s bodies and/or minds, or simply found-footage films with forces that are never seen in any shape or form. Still, for one character’s performance and an idea for a villain being what makes a certain film work, just isn’t good enough. The biggest issue here though really is simply that Sinister is a film that may have some unique ideas but presents them in such a way that does very little to impress viewers who have at least two decade’s experience with the horror genre, but instead may mostly be seen as a work of genius by any who have never seen any horror film made before 8 or 10 years ago. To its credit, a worthy treat would be the instances of viewing the snuff reels themselves, and how various families were tortured and killed in each one. While not entirely creative situations on their own, they do add a decent edge of darkness to the film, but only just enough to warrant a light R-rating, otherwise it would be very easy to mistake this for having been rated PG-13 as the film is lacking severely in any blood content or even the least bit of harsh language, to which there are actually two significant ones, yet almost come out muted when uttered by Hawke. A second (although perhaps irrelevant) credit would have to go to the small nod to the culture of Norwegian black metal bands, where this main villain seems to come straight out of (at least for the first half of the film).

Eventually some tension comes in the form of Ellison taking this novel too far while his family comes into their usual danger, forcing him to move out of the house back to where they used to live. This eventually leading to the film’s conclusion which gives us a new plot element that may be seen as a twist but overall just ends to an shrug-worthy, cheap and unsatisfying conclusion which makes you wonder what the point of your last 100 minutes actually was for. Though we do get a fairly worthy attempt at a character study within Ellison himself, and the lengths he insists on in order to gain as much information as possible, writing the book, and the importance he puts into it above his family, as a whole there really is no sort of character growth here whatsoever; so though we like Ellison, we do not end up much caring for him. On the plus side, we do get an A-list Hollywood actor as the lead to carry a film that doesn’t do much in terms of originality to carry itself, still it would have been beneficial to either have written in the family to have some more involvement here, a better actress to play Ellison’s wife for better chemistry, or children who do more than just pander to the modern horror cliche of cheap looking make-up for some low brow attempts at scares. By the final 10 minutes, as always with modern horror films, the villain has already exposed itself so much that he may come off as more comedic than scary. And yes, those sudden loud keyboard notes to a big face suddenly showing up on screen is here and revels in all its cliched pride. At that point the audience will have too good a feeling as to how things will conclude. Making for some decently entertaining viewing, Sinister is just created with far too many cookie-cutter moments to be seen as original. Yet, perhaps sometimes it’s ok for a film to work with a formula, as long as it has just enough to carry it through, which is certainly the case here.

Extras:

Besides your basic commentary, we have a small collection of featurettes that though informative, have little to do with the actual movie. First we get a “True Crime Authors” feature running about 9 minutes long, and gives us several film scenes but only a discussion of several authors and their experiences writing crime novels similar to the genre Ellison in the film writes. Fairly uninteresting at worst and mildly entertaining at best. Next is a feature called “Living in a House of Death,” where a narrator takes us to an American home that has a history of hauntings due to a former family having died at the site; perhaps a bit more interesting but feels more like a cut episode from a reality TV haunting show; general fill to say the least. It would have been great to see some sort of behind-the-scenes features on the film itself, or hear from star Ethan Hawke, and perhaps at least some background on why the filmmakers chose the particular villain. Aside from these featurettes there is a trailer and a couple of deleted scenes. One scene in particular features an entirely new character that was cut from the film altogether – a rude and curt next door neighbor to the family who makes a deal with Ellison for information on the murdered family’s history. While it can be seen why the character was cut out of the final showing, it maybe could have opened new possibilities for the film if it had been left in tact.

Graphics and Sound:

On the visual front, Sinister is pleasing enough, and since black levels are so vital to a film that is about 80% dark, the transfer doesn’t fail in bringing us satisfying black levels. Daylight colors have a nice tint from the film cinematography itself, and although the transfer does come off a tad too sharp in this regard, it’s not anything that will detract from the viewing. At the very least we don’t get very many instances of distortion, but another layer of smoothing out could have given a near perfect and optimal HD look. Yet while visually the film is satisfactory, the sound is where there tends to be some minor issues, particularly with the dialogue track. When the characters initially speak, there is a strange in-studio production volume to their voices, almost as if the mics recording them were turned up too loud, giving a small hint of artificiality to their vocal tones. A better way to compare this would be a vocal sound as if one was speaking too closely into a microphone, giving off a mild but apparent scratchy sound. This comes off noticeable at first, but just like anything, you become adjusted and thankfully all other sound effects and music are at a full volume level, leaving nothing missing or muffled.

Final Verdict:

While Sinister does give us all the makings of your typical modern horror film and the overdone cliches to follow suit, it does so with a certain finesse and direction good enough to never bore us through it. What brings this film down feels at equal ground to what keeps it interesting, namely that of a decent enough atmosphere, worthwhile villain (ignoring the cheese factor towards the end of the film that makes him feel like a gag afterthought and not the truly evil presence he begins as), and a star actor as the lead who can make up for what the remainder of the cast lacks. Lastly, while the ending isn’t anything abhorrent, it is certainly disappointing, and one that really negates your entire time put into it. If you take the horror genre seriously, and are desperately looking for a breath of fresh air amongst the sea of junk films released within the past decade, it is a comfort to know that Sinister is one of the better films… but in the end, it is still just common enough to remain in that sea of modern horror. Perhaps a more experienced director could have brought a better sense of darkness and evil to the film, a mood that underneath its clean facade feels like it’s begging to break through, as well as without pandering so much to the PG-13 crowd despite its mostly erroneous R-rating. I’d say a loose recommendation of 2.5 night terrors out of 4.